Mercury Prize Shortlist

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The Mercury Prize is an accolade that has seen artists’ careers propel to success following a win, although even simply reaching the shortlist has been known to increase the visibility of artists exponentially and see a significant surge in their album sales. Last year, Royal Blood, Jungle, FKA Twigs, Bombay Bicycle Club, Nick Mulvey and Damon Albarn all made it onto the coveted shortlist, with Young Fathers clinching the title of ‘Album of the Year’. bite takes a look at this year’s shortlist…

Hairless Toys – Róisín Murphy
‘Hairless Toys’ is the third (and most aerodynamically streamlined) release from Róisín Murphy as a product of her solo project. The singer, formerly known from her involvement in electronic group Moloko, has been ambitious with this release – perhaps too ambitious.

The album opener, ‘Gone Fishing’, meanders somewhat formlessly with keyboards, synths and drum machines backing Murphy’s underwhelming vocals. The track is a harbinger of things to come and the never-changing dynamic-level of the track can be heard throughout almost the entire album.

Having said this, Murphy shows a glimpse of what she is capable of in track ‘Exploitation’. Finally, there is some bite and edge to the album; the songwriting feels more purposeful and the listener is rewarded with an interesting track blending electronic and live sounds.

Murphy has strived to push musical boundaries in this release and, for the intention, should be applauded. However, the interesting concept is not enough to make up for the weak songwriting.

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4/10

reviewed by: Greg Chapman

Architect – C. Duncan

Christopher Duncan has burst onto the music scene with his Debut album ‘Architect’. At 26 years of age, born to two classical musicians, Duncan has created a flowing, thoughtful album. Studying music composition at what now is known as the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, you can hear the roots of the choral sound, which appears frequently throughout ‘Architect’.

Do not be misled; the album feels fresh and modern, a good example being ‘Silence and Air’, where the percussion introduced brings the song to life, all the while backed by sweeping choral arrangements.

The album is not one-dimensional; ‘Garden’ almost feels as if The Beatles were to play a set in Alice in Wonderland: dreamy and catchy and all the while Duncan interweaving the seemingly disparate musical elements into one arrangement.

The album is an accomplished debut, less about melodic hooks and catchy riffs and more about developing an atmosphere for the listener to feel immersed in.

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7/10

 

Matador – Gaz Coombes
With ‘Matador’ as his second solo release, it’s safe to say that life after Supergrass-stardom is treating Gaz Coombes well. ‘Matador’, released in January of this year, is layered and exceptionally well-written with a modern sound.

Strong throughout, the album ranges from the anthemic, soaring ending of ‘20/20’ to the brooding tones of ‘To The Wire’, all the time relying on Coombes’ mature songwriting to maintain the momentum of the album as a whole. The album is well-produced, sounding polished (as you would expect) without feeling overproduced.

Other tracks worthy of note are ‘Detroit’ and ‘The Girl Who Fell To Earth’, which both show off the solid arrangement of the tracks with Coombes never having to resort to cheap tricks to bring interest to the songs; they are melodically and lyrically driven with a mixture of electronic and acoustic sounds backing up his consistently impressive vocal performance.

Matador

 

 

 

 

 


8/10

reviewed by: Greg Chapman

Are You Satisfied? – Slaves
‘Are You Satisfied?’, the first full length studio release from Slaves, does not beat around the bush. The Kent-based boys waste absolutely no time in getting up in your face with gritty guitar tones, abrasive vocals and pounding drums.

Self-describing on the band’s Bandcamp page as ‘Grunge Punk’, the band are a two-man line-up of guitarist/bassist and a drummer using a kit consisting of 2 cymbals and 2 drums – imagine Meg White after a drastic haircut and a really, really bad day. It is fair to say that Slaves are not trying to write a complex, varied album.

The album suffers with the simplicity of the songwriting in parts, the band heavily relying on lyrical refrains and repetitive riffs. The simple song structures cause the album to drag but there are certainly high points in ‘Live Like An Animal’ and ‘Sockets’.

An exciting band to watch live, certainly. On record, disappointing.

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5/10

reviewed by: Greg Chapman

Syro– Aphex Twin
Released in September 2014, ‘Syro’ is Aphex Twin’s first release since 2001 release ‘Drukqs’. Richard D. James, the man behind the Aphex Twin banner, has created a multifaceted collection of tracks which, testament to his craft and skill as a musician, hang together well as one cohesive work.

The album blends an array of styles and influences: the thumping ‘180db [130]’ appears on the same track listing as ‘aisatsana [102]’, a beautiful, nuanced piano-only composition which could have been taken straight from a film soundtrack.

All tracks do convey a very strong sense of image or location but it is fair to say that some tracks do feel a little long-winded at points (‘CIRCLONT6A [141.98]’, for example), and the entire album totals approximately an hour in play time.  

Having said this, James’ work exhibits a variety of intensities and energy levels to keep the listener engaged through the majority of the work.

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7/10

reviewed by: Greg Chapman

Shedding Skin – Ghostpoet
‘Shedding Skin’ is Ghostpoet’s second Mercury-nominated album after 2011’s ‘Peanut Butter Blues & Melancholy Jam’.

The London rapper, Obaro Ejimiwe, professionally known as ‘Ghostpoet’, released the album on Play it Again Sam in March 2015.  

Ghostpoet is known for his sparse electronic beats.

Interestingly, Ejimiwe was a judge on last year’s Mercury panel. The album includes several guest vocalists, including Lucy Rose, Nadine Shah and Maximo Park frontman Paul Smith.

‘Shedding Skin’ features the singles ‘X Marks the Spot’ and ‘Off Peak Dreams’.

The album follows what now has become the traditional live set up of the band: Joe Newman on guitar, bass player, John Calvert and John Blease on drums.

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9/10

reviewed by: Naomi Chhatwal

Before We Forgot How To Dream – Soak
At the age of 18, Soak has already played Glastonbury, signed to a major record label (Rough Trade), reached the Radio 1 A list and, in June, released her debut album, which has already received encouraging reviews.

The songs on the Northern Irish singer-songwriter’s album, ‘Before We Forget How To Dream’, sound like they could be straight out of a private diary, lyrically detailing experiences Soak (whose real name is Bridie Monds-Watson) has had in school, at home and generally out and about in Londonderry.

‘Sea Creatures’ – one of the most memorable songs on the album – is a heart-felt ode to a school friend who had been the target of homophobic bullying at school. Lyrically, it is a caring and personal song (“I pray for you/and you know I don’t like Jesus”), while the sounds of waves in the background and airy musical melodies take the listener straight to the coast.

The album is an impressive offering from the young artist, although Soak definitely sounds her age – it will be interesting to watch how her voice grows as she gets older.

Before We Forgot How To Dream

 

 

 

 

 


7/10

reviewed by: Jessica Brough

At Least For Now – Benjamin Clementine

A diverse palette of influences can be heard in ‘At Least For Now’, Benjamin Clementine’s debut album. Born in Crystal Palace, Clementine left school at the age of 11 and at the age of 19, moved to Paris, earning his living by busking and playing in bars and small venues.

The album truly breathes life. From start to end, the songs are full of character and they convey such an openness that listeners will be transported to his world, which he paints in vivid colours.

It would be futile to even attempt to classify the album as coming from one particular genre; in parts of ‘Then I Heard A Bachelor’s Cry’, Clementine is almost theatrical, he is tender and vulnerable in ‘Cornerstone’ and in ‘London’ he is lyrically and melodically outstanding.

The album is bizarre and varied. Listeners will be taken in by the intrigue and will stay for the depth of Clementine’s storytelling and honesty.

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8/10

reviewed by: Greg Chapman

In Colour – Jamie xx
“In Colour” is a melancholy but sublime homage to the UK rave scene. Tracks such as “Gosh” build an intoxicatingly addictive rush, whilst “Obvs”, featuring the sort of chitter chatter you hear outside a club toilet, evokes a sense of reminiscence for every night out you’ve ever had. There’s a darker side to this reminiscence though, as ethereal vocals from Smith’s former bandmates, Romy (“Loud Places”) and Oliver Sim (“Stranger in a Room”) serve as a reminder that raving is transient; no matter how much fun we’re having now it will all soon end. But, just when you thought you were going to melt into your come down, along comes “I Know There’s Gonna Be (Good Times)”, featuring Young Thug and Popcaan – a track so soaked in summer it’s impossible not to join the party again. What better album to win the mercury prize, an award that defines UK music culture, than one that perfectly depicts the splendor of a British Friday night?

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8/10

reviewed by: Natalia Riley

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful – Florence and the Machine
This album has been flown around the world already, with Welch performing it as a headliner at numerous festivals. Heavy on explosive-sounding tracks, the album is designed to be played live and lends itself well to Welsh’s new, volatile way of performing – running from one stage to the other, backed up by a full orchestra, with a tambourine and a look of striking euphoria on her face (suiting the suspicious nature of the narcotic-suggestive lyrics of ‘Delilah’).

The piano tones and trance-like guitar riff of ‘Long and Lost’ give the album a necessary rest so the listener doesn’t run out of breath. St. Jude is the most stripped back track and probably isn’t the strongest song out of the bunch, but any excitement that may have been lost during it will be immediately restored during the almost gospel-like chorus of ‘Mother’.

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9/10

reviewed by: Jessica Brough

My Love Is Cool  –  Wolf Alice
After spending a lot of time listening to Wolf Alice’s EPs, ‘Blush’ and ‘Creature Songs’ and following the band’s increasing success on their various social media platforms, excitement for their debut album was a given. Sadly, it seems as though most of their more remarkable and memorable songs are missed out on the LP, replaced instead by songs with too much reverb and not enough thought.

‘My Love Is Cool’ is a punchy, grubby, solid album with stand-out tracks, including ‘Bros’, ‘Giant Peach’ and ‘Fluffy’. ‘Your Loves Whore’ has exactly the right amount of build-up and teases your senses with the band’s well-timed pauses. However, the record loses velocity somewhere in the middle, between vocalist Ellie’s questionably laugh at the end of “You’re a Germ” and the trade of lyrical impact for fun effects during ‘Freazy’. Despite this, the good songs are pretty damn good, so they may have a fighting chance of winning the coveted award.

wolf alice

 

 

 

 

 


7/10

reviewed by: Jessica Brough

Eska – ESKA
It is difficult task, attempting to list artists Eska is similar to, because she’s not really like anyone out there. Don’t let this put you off though – you should absolutely give this debut album a chance.

The singer’s vocal style is expressive, dramatic and original. ‘Gatekeeper’ is a thoroughly enjoyable and fun song to listen to, with whistles and light-hearted “woos” backing up Eska’s animated vocals.

The tracks on this album have clearly been thought out and meticulously laid down. Not content to stick with just one basic genre, Eska incorporates accents of soul, jazz, classical, dub-reggae, electro and samba into her music, while the borderline psychedelic ‘Shades of Blue’ sounds like Jefferson Airplane and Laura Mvula got frisky in a recording studio and made a baby. ‘She’s in the Flowers’ highlights Eska’s musicianship and classical training.

This album is a sheer delight to listen to, especially for the first time when every other note is a joyous surprise.

ESKA

 

 

 

 

 


9/10

reviewed by: Jessica Brough

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